The Stakes Were Sky High Filming Top Gun: Maverick

It's been over 35 years since "Top Gun" saw Tom Cruise fly into the danger zone.

Starring as Maverick, the now-iconic movie star made waves as the Navy flight school student who wanted to be the best of the best. It's the quintessential '80s flick with the coolest soundtrack and a whole load of impressive flight scenes.

But "Top Gun: Maverick" kicks it up a notch. 

Of course, Tom Cruise is back, reprising his role as Maverick, but this time he's joined by a new generation of flight school students. Miles Teller plays the son of his old pal Goose, with Val Kilmer returning as Iceman — this time outranking Maverick as a Vice Admiral. Back with the Top Gun graduates, it looks as though Maverick is taking on his most dangerous assignment yet ... and the film's new stars even got to ride into the danger zone themselves.

I feel the need ... the need for speed.

It's no secret that the Top Gun graduates want to be the best... and this time, there's some stiff competition. Miles Teller stars as Rooster, but he's joined by Glen Powell (Hangman), Lewis Pullman (Bob), Jay Ellis (Payback), Monica Barbaro (Phoenix), Danny Ramirez (Fanboy), and Greg Tarzan Davis (Coyote). Each of these will be vying for the Top Gun Trophy — recognition that they're the best of the best.

That means hard work and rigorous training ... and it wasn't easy on the actors, either. How do you portray a Top Gun pilot? By getting up in the air yourself, of course.

"They would have me go up in a F-18 for an hour or hour and a half, pulling anywhere around seven-and-a-half Gs," said Teller in an interview with Men's Journal. "Getting to fly around with the best naval aviators in the world."

If that sounds like fun, it wasn't quite as easy as it sounds. Each of the new actors playing Top Gun graduates had to undergo rigorous training just to fly as passengers alongside real F-18 pilots. Teller explained why it was so tough:

"The F-18 is just a completely different beast. Every element of our training came into play during those sequences, all of the breathing techniques and tolerances. Every single day of the shoot we were really getting after it, up until the very last day people were fainting and puking."

One of the main problems is presumably keeping your composure and lining up shots correctly while pulling seven-and-a-half Gs. Not easy. And it sounds as though their training program was almost as tough as Top Gun school itself.

Is this your idea of fun, Mav?

Much like the flight school itself, "Top Gun: Maverick" put its new recruits through their paces. That all began with Tom Cruise's very own brand of training — affectionately referred to as Tom Cruise Boot Camp. What was it like? Miles Teller described the three-month intensive training:

"He put us through... I'll just call it a 'Tom Cruise boot camp'. We were getting in killer shape. And also for the stunts and stuff that Tom does in movies, it's usually a very specific type of training. You're not just going into the gym and lifting some weights. We did flight training for three months before we started filming... We got put through the wringer."

But it was more than just fitness.

Back in 1986, the original "Top Gun" actors simply couldn't film scenes in the original jets. Why? Well, according to producer Jerry Bruckheimer, they kept passing out.

"Their eyes were rolling back into their heads. They were throwing up," he said. If they didn't want a repeat performance, then experienced pilot Cruise would have to take them under his wing. That's right — he taught them everything he knows.

"I developed a whole program for the actors, and how we could get them in the [F/A-18s]," Cruise said. "It was every step of the way. I had to teach them how to fly. I had to teach them how to handle Gs. I had to get them confident in the aeroplane."

"We were all mini Toms making this movie," added Teller. But their toughest challenge was yet to come — they'd have to pass an actual Navy pilot training course.

This is what I call a target-rich environment

Even before they could get into the F-18s, each new "Top Gun" graduate had to pass the Naval Aviation Survival Training course in San Diego. And that meant learning how to stay alive in the event of an ejection.

"You learn all the protocols you need to go through if you ever have to eject over the ocean," said Teller. "They drag you across the water, they flip you on your bag, they want to see you able to get out of your harness and much more."

Once they've learned everything, their fate rests on one final test... "The Dunker," where a person is placed into a modified helicopter, strapped to a chair, and dunked underwater. It all sounds a bit intense... but it means that each "Top Gun" pilot knows exactly what to do if they hit trouble.

"They blindfold you. Give you a chance to grab your last breath and then they take you down under the surface. Once you are under, they start to flip the tank and you have to prove you can go through the right operations to get out, as calmly as possible. Your partner is in there with you, and together you have to break open the hatch. It feels like some sort of torture chamber to a degree."

Pretty intense, huh? But with director Joseph Kosinski striving for realism, at least each of his pilots can say they've been through their very own "Top Gun" school.

And it stood them in good stead for what was about to come...

Damn, this kid is good!

"Top Gun: Maverick" clearly ups the ante compared to the original, and with the cast taking to the skies in F-18s, they were able to capture some of the most realistic footage imaginable.

But it certainly wasn't easy.

"There was a lot that went into each of the flight scenes," said Teller. "Before we would shoot, we would go into a briefing like the military does, going over each movement and stunt very specifically – what the altitude is going to be, what our speed is going to be."

This level of planning was necessary. After all, they were filming in F-18s with real pilots ... and any mistakes would be costly. Teller described:

"The stakes are incredibly high, even if you are not actually flying the fighter jet, you need to be aware of every movement, because if the camera is pointed at you and you are even a millisecond off as far as timing, the whole scene is a bust. That means everything from the motion to the eye-line has to be perfect. This is especially the case when it comes to dogfighting, because there are so many factors you need to take into account."

Thankfully, as you can see from the recent trailers, the flight school pilots really pulled their weight, and "Top Gun: Maverick" features some ludicrously impressive flight scenes. When they look back at their time in Tom Cruise Boot Camp, I'm sure they'll agree it was all worth it.

"Top Gun: Maverick" hits theaters May 27, 2022.